Types of Records held by Archives
Archives hold many different types of records, in fact anything that is considered to be in the public interest. The records are usually unique, unpublished, rare and often one of a kind. Some rare published material will also be kept in archives. Examples of the type of material of interest to genealogists are:
- Historical maps
- Civil birth, marriage and death records
- Church records
- Militia muster rolls and other military records
- Electoral registers
- Legal records
- Early telephone books and directories
- Divorce records
- School records
- Health records
- Land records
- Employment records
- Historic newspapers
Finding an archive
There are links to many archives on the OnGenealogy website. You’ll find links to all the county archives in England, Wales and Scotland (in the parish register guides) in the Resources section of this website. You can also use the Archives Grid to search millions of collections held in archives throughout the World as well as locating them on a map.
Finally, a Google search can also be effective.
Planning an archive visit
The first thing to do is to find out what records an archive holds and what information you are likely to get from them. This is quite easy to do if the archive’s catalogue is online. If it isn’t, it’s advisable to call or email the archive to check whether they hold the records you are looking for.
Check the guidelines for visiting on the archive’s website. You may need to make an appointment to book a seat, there may be limited opening times and there will be restrictions on what you can bring into the reading room and the number of items you can take out at once. You may also have to reserve the items you want to see in advance as they may have to be brought in from another building.
If you can’t visit an archive
You may not be able to visit an archive containing the documents you want to see because it’s thousands of miles from where you live. You’ll need to get someone to look at the document for you and, if possible, make a copy of it. Very often, the archivist can do this and will charge a fee. They often have a standard rate charged per half hour, with half an hour being the minimum charge. If they can’t do it themselves, they may be able to recommend a local researcher who can.
Failing that, the local family history society may be able to provide someone to look up a document, again for a fee. Organizations like the Association of Professional Genealogists, AGRA in England and ASGRA in Scotland have members that can do research in archives. Their websites have directories where you can find genealogists that are local to the archive. Their rates will probably be much higher than if the archivist did the work though.
See When You Should Hire A Genealogy Researcher for more information.
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